Indian ‘helper’ dies in Russian war zone

The 23-year-old was killed by missiles while practising how to fire, according to a fellow Indian who escaped the attack; his father’s agent asked Indian consulate for help in getting out earlier this month

February 24, 2024 10:39 pm | Updated February 25, 2024 06:41 am IST - NEW DELHI

This video grab taken from footage posted on the official Telegram account of Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed head of the Donetsk region of Ukraine, on February 24, 2024, shows destroyed residential buildings in Avdiivka, in Russian-controled Ukraine.

This video grab taken from footage posted on the official Telegram account of Denis Pushilin, the Moscow-appointed head of the Donetsk region of Ukraine, on February 24, 2024, shows destroyed residential buildings in Avdiivka, in Russian-controled Ukraine. | Photo Credit: AFP

A 23-year-old man from Gujarat who was hired as a security helper by the Russian Army has been killed in a Ukrainian air strike on February 21 in the Donetsk region on the Russia-Ukraine border, another Indian worker who escaped the attack told The Hindu.

The man, identified as Hemil Ashvinbhai Mangukiya, a resident of Surat district, had gone to Russia in December 2023 and was subsequently attached with the Russian Army. An agent had written to the Indian consulate on behalf of his father earlier this month asking for help in bringing him back home, and several other Indians on contract with Russian forces also told The Hindu they have sought the India Embassy’s support.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials said that they had not been informed about this particular incident.

Deadly missile hit

The deceased’s father Ashvinbhai Mangukiya told The Hindu that he had last spoken with his son on February 20, but refused to provide any other details.

Also read | ‘PUBG, but in real life’: family worried over fate of Indian man stranded near Russia-Ukraine frontlines

Sameer Ahmad, 23, a resident of Gulbarga in Karnataka, told The Hindu that Mangukiya was killed as he was struck by missiles. “We saw a drone hovering above us. I was digging a trench and Hemil was practising how to fire, around 150 metres away. Suddenly we heard some noise. I and two other Indians, along with other Russian soldiers, hid in the trench. The missiles struck and the earth shook. After some time when we got out, I found Hemil dead. I was the one who put his body in the truck,” Mr. Ahmad said.

Another Indian worker shared a photograph of Mangukiya’s body, with multiple injuries on the face and skull. In the image, his clothes are soaked in blood and the lifeless body is seen lying on a heap of bodies, likely in a truck.

Attack in occupied eastern Ukraine

“In all, there were four Indians including Hemil who were part of the group that came under attack on February 21. Hemil was very close to the Russian military commander and they trusted him. They did not make him do menial work. The air strike happened when the trench was being dug up. A Nepalese was also among those killed,” another Indian worker said.

Though the exact details of the incident are unknown, a report by BBC News said that at least 60 Russian troops were killed after a training area in occupied eastern Ukraine was hit by two missiles. Chatter on Russian Telegram channels showed that the group had been hit by Ukrainian missiles when they had lined up in an open field for inspection.

Seeking government help

The Hindu has previously reported that around 100 Indians are said to have been hired by the Russian Army over the past year, and at least three Indians hired as security helpers were forced to fight alongside Russian forces on the Russia-Ukraine border.

Several workers have approached the Indian Embassy in Moscow seeking the government’s help to return home. An e-mail sent by an agent on behalf of Mangukiya’s father to the Indian consulate on February 2, stated that his son was in the danger zone and they wanted him back in India.

India on Friday said that it has approached the Russian authorities for “early discharge” of Indians working as support staff with the Russian Army, and it urged Indian nationals to stay away from the conflict.

‘Please save us’

Mr. Ahmad said that the Indian Embassy was not responding to their repeated pleas for help. “We came together from India. Hemil died in front of me. We fear that they may send us to the border and we will also be left to die. When we ask the Russian commander to relieve us, he said we have signed a contract. The commander said we will get Hemil’s body after two months. Please save us,” he pleaded.

Another worker said, “We were hired as army security helpers but they are forcing us to fight on the Russia-Ukraine border. We fear for our safety and security. Despite repeated pleas and requests, the government is not doing anything to rescue us.”

Russia and Ukraine have been at war since February 24, 2022. While a few Indians had volunteered to join the International Legion created to fight against Russian forces in Ukraine in 2022, the presence of Indians in a combat role on the Russian side has been reported for the first time.

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